After our day through all four seasons on Logora Pass we ended up in Himara, a small coastal town in southern Albania. We arrived just as the sun was setting and had a spectacular view of the Ionian Sea from our balcony.
Himara is another town that looks like it has expanded quite rapidly into tourism but everything is still a bit rough and tumble. There are few restaurants, many of which were closed for the season as there are not many tourists around in late November. The ride getting here was spectacular in many ways, as you may have seen in the video. We were delayed by a day because of very nasty weather but spent a dry and comfortable afternoon and night in an unfinished, abandoned house.
Our ascent up Logora Pass began under clear blue skies. We had gorgeous views behind us over the coastal plains around Orikum and even more spectacular mountain views with small villages dotting the landscape ahead of us.
With nice weather and amazing views, the long steady climb up the pass was enjoyable despite its steep incline. The climb to the top was almost 17 KM with an average grade of 6 per cent, but with steep final 7 KM and 10 per cent section getting to the pass.
About halfway through that steep section are some hotels and restaurants where we decided to take a break as the weather had changed quickly from sunny and warm to cold and raining. As we sat by the fire place enjoying a hot coffee, the rain turned to hail and looked like it might be more than just a passing squall. Thunder and lightning, and a power outage completed the gloomy picture.
After about an hour, the downpour stopped and we quickly mounted our bikes to continue the final 3.5 KM climb and down the other side in the hope of avoiding the next storm cell.
We got lucky but, as you saw in the video, we did have snow in the pass which made cycling a bit tricky. However, our big, fat Schwalbe tires have good profile and we got through it without incident, although it was very cold.
The view down the other side was stunning. We could see the sea far below us as we came out of the clouds. Sun light playing on the azure water with the dark clouds and brooding mountain peaks around us painted a dramatic picture and we stopped often to make photographs.
The road slices down the steep mountainside and is a crazy collection of nine long hairpins over 10 KM. It drops 800 metres, producing an average grade of 8 per cent, ending up in Dhërmi, a town perched on the steep mountainside, where we took a break for lunch.
The sun was shining again as the storm cells in the pass were now behind us. From Dhërmi we descended some more before climbing back up to nearly 400 metres through a dramatic landscape of cliffs and canyons. The final descent back to sea level had a dizzying steep section of nearly 12 per cent taking us into Himara.
After a hot shower we went out and found a restaurant that was open for yet another huge, carbo-intensive meal to help our bodies recover from a day that saw us climb more than 1,500 metres, nearly as much as our highest altitude gain in the Swiss Alps with one distinct difference: Albania’s mountains are quite a bit steeper than the ones we climbed in the Alps.
The next day from Himara to Sarandë along the southern Albanian coast was a 53-kilometre-long ride punctuated by climb after climb, totaling 1120 metres of altitude gain, with sections up to 7 per cent. And we were not done yet.
To get out of Albania into Greece we were faced with one more pass up to 800 metres east of Saranda. The day began with the promise of new life as we watched a ewe clean her two new-born lambs while the rest of the flock grazed in the shrubby field beside the road.
The weather cooperated nicely and it was a lovely ride with great fall colours and sweeping mountain vistas on the way up.
Just down from the pass, as the landscape opened up into the Drin River Valley, we heard the tell-tale clanging of sheep bells and were stopped dead in our tracks by a large flock of sheep and goats on the road. The shepherds and dogs pushed them along as fast as they could but nothing was getting through. So, we just waited, enjoying the scene.
We arrived down in the Drin River Valley hungry and ready for a break after the day’s climb. A small town along the highway offered only one restaurant that was open but that was all we needed.
When we asked for a menu, the cook spoke no English but took us into the kitchen and showed us the fare she had on offer. We each had a bowl of goulash and a bowl of rice and we shared a dish of roasted eggplant and zucchini, as well as some bread and a plate of fries. All that food plus coffee for about $10.
Thoroughly stuffed, we set out for the final kilometres along the flat valley bottom to the border with Greece. And so, one of the most intriguing countries of Europe lay behind us.Albania has many challenges ahead of it. Wages are low. Infrastructure needs work, especially the garbage situation, but what makes this place so amazing, besides the magnificent mountain and coastal scenery, is its people. They have spirit, are generous and will go out of their way to help you. We loved Albania and would go back given the opportunity.